Spotlight

Spotlight Nigerian Artist Nengi Omuku

Championed by Alayo Akinkugbe
The Wick - Nengi Omuku, Reclining Figures, 2022, oil on sanyan, 193 x 249 cm, 76 x 98 1/8 in, Collection Baltimore Museum of Art, MN, Image courtesy Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London, Photo: Mark Blower, © Nengi Omuku
Above  Nengi Omuku, Reclining Figures, 2022, oil on sanyan, 193 x 249 cm, 76 x 98 1/8 in, Collection Baltimore Museum of Art, MN, Image courtesy Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London, Photo: Mark Blower, © Nengi Omuku
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The Wick - Nengi Omuku, Black Rock Sénégal, crédit photo _ Badara Preira, 2023, All rights reserved
Above  Nengi Omuku, Black Rock Sénégal, crédit photo _ Badara Preira, 2023, All rights reserved
Interview
Nengi Omuku
Photography
Badara Preira
23 March 2023
Interview
Nengi Omuku
Photography
Badara Preira
23 March 2023
Since February 2020, art historian and writer Alayo Akinkugbe has been championing emerging and forgotten Black artists, sitters, curators and thinkers as the founder of the Instagram account @ABlackHistoryOfArt. Today, she shines a light on the work of Nengi Omuku.

Akinkugbe says: “I met Nengi at her studio in Lagos in 2020, we had just been through months of lockdown and I remember being so moved to encounter her paintings as the first works of art after being at home for so long.
“We connected via Instagram, after we’d been featured on the same episode of Katy Hessel’s The Great Women Artists podcast, and realised we were both in Lagos.”

Inspired by archival and current images taken from the Nigerian press and media, Omuku creates ethereal scenes of figures in constant flux, interacting with one another and the landscape around them. She also works in oil paint on strips of Sanyan – a Western Nigerian fabric created from woven threads of wild moth silk and blended with industrial cotton.

Akinkugbe says: “I love Nengi’s work for its otherworldly aesthetic quality, but also for the fact that it is physically intertwined with Nigerian cultural history: Nengi paints on vintage Sanyan, a traditional Yoruba fabric, which is still worn today. With her work, she transcends the two-dimensional nature of painting, often hanging paintings away from the wall, turning them into installations and allowing the viewer to appreciate all angles of the work – both her painting and the fabric itself on the reverse of it.”

Omuku says: “My work is influenced by the experience of living in Lagos, Nigeria. With some of the pieces coming from contemporary and archival press photographs and others being purely imagined portals for escape.”

In addition to showing her work across the world in solo shows in Lagos, London, Berlin and New York, Nengi Omuku has also been commissioned by the Arts Council England to paint a mural in an intensive care psychiatric ward at the Maudsley Hospital, London. Providing people in challenging circumstances with access to contemporary art as a form of therapy is something Omuku feels strongly about and inspired her to create The Art of Healing, a charitable organisation in Nigeria. TAOH also works with leading contemporary artists to transform hospital rooms to help improve the living conditions of patients.

Until April 29, Omuku’s work can be currently seen at Gagosian, London as part of Rites of Passage, an exhibition of 19th contemporary artists who share a history of migration, curated by Péjú Oshin.

About the champion

The Wick - Portrait of Alayo Akinkugbe, courtesy of Alayo Akinkugbe.

Art historian and writer Alayo Akinkugbe graduated from the University of Cambridge with a BA in History of Art in 2021 and an MA in Curating the Art Museum at the Courtauld Institute of Art the following year. In a bid to change the way art is taught and presented in the West, in favour of a more global and inclusive approach, she has gone on to champion emerging and forgotten Black artists from across the globe and across art history at every opportunity, especially online through her Instagram account, @ABlackHistoryOfArt.

“I love Nengi’s work for its otherworldly aesthetic quality, but also for the fact that it is physically intertwined with Nigerian cultural history.”

Place of Birth

Delta state in Nigeria.

Education

BA and MA in fine art at the Slade School of Fine Art.

Awards, Accolades

– The British Council CHOGM art award, presented by HM Queen Elizabeth II.
– Commissioned by Arts Council England to paint a mural at the Maudsley Hospital, London.
– Institutional shows at La Galerie Centre d’Art Contemporain, Paris, the Shyllon Museum, Lagos, the World Trade Organization, Geneva and the New Hall Art Collection,Cambridge.

Upcoming exhibitions

The Bangkok Art Biennale (2022-2023) and Rites of Passage at Gagosian, London, curated by Péjú Oshin and running until April 29. St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, USA (2023), Frieze London (2023), Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, Palm Beach, Florida, USA (2023)

Spiritual guides, Mentors

Phyllida Barlow, my first tutor at the Slade, and Lisa Milroy, my MA painting tutor where I finally began to find my feet.

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